Organizations of university students, workers, and professors in Brazil are calling for a general strike next Wednesday, May 15, to protest the 30-percent budget cut the Brazilian government announced last week for all federal universities and federal institutes.
In addition to the budget cuts, the organizations accuse the Jair Bolsonaro administration of ideologically-motivated persecution against human sciences that promote critical thinking in schools and universities.
Eblin Joseph Farage, the general secretary of Brazil’s National Union of Faculty of Higher Education Institutions, said the walkout aims at stopping the dismantling promoted by Bolsonaro from definitely impacting the country’s public education.
“We have high expectations for the 15th as a day to unite all these segments of education, which is something we haven’t been able to do for a while in this country,” she said. “This is the only possibility we have to win and face these attacks by the government.”
Farage adds that education organizations are also organizing a general strike against the government’s pension reform project on Jun. 14, pointing out professors – especially women – will be one of the groups that will suffer the most with the overhaul proposed by the Economy minister, Paulo Guedes.
“Our effort is to have a national day of strike in education on all levels, from basic to higher education, and that this mobilization can really warm up the fight for June 14th, which is when we are calling a general strike,” Farage points out.
Antônio Alves, the coordinator of the Federation of Unions of Technical and Administrative Workers of Public Higher Education Institutions of Brazil, explains that students, workers, and professors already had a schedule of demonstrations in defense of public education even before the 30-percent budget cut was announced.
“It’s not just about the 30 percent. They have been trying to disparage the country’s public universities from an ideological standpoint, also trying to financially suffocate them,” Alves says.
Alves says that workers who are already vulnerable will see their conditions worsen. “Without investments in universities, this is one of the most impacted groups [outsourced and vulnerable workers],” he argues. “Without investments, there will be no material sourcing, no conditions for workers to provide quality services to university users.”
Farage agrees with Alves and adds that she believes the government is making it clear that education is not a top priority. “It [the Bolsonaro administration] understands that education is about providing technical services for social alienation. It deals with education by depriving it of its core meaning. We understand that education must contribute to freedom, to educate people toward critical thinking, so that they can read the social reality with all its contradictions.”
Three federal universities – Santa Maria, Paraíba and Paraná – announced after the budget cuts that they may not be able to continue their activities after the end of next semester, which, in Brazil, ends in December.
Jessy Dayane, the vice president of the National Union of Students, argued that students from public higher education institutions will be directly impacted by the cuts.
“Students have been struggling in universities after student care programs have been reduced as universities started losing budget. But now they are at risk of not even needing that student care anymore, because universities may suspend their activities completely with this aggressive cut the government is doing,” she said.
Dayane points out Brazil is going down a path of setbacks in all areas, including the economy.
“Public universities are almost exclusively responsible for research [in the country],” she argued. “Without public universities, having only private institutions that don’t have the same significance or investment in research, we become the perfect country in this rearrangement of the world economy for the interests of financial capital. A country with no development, a country with no industry, a country with no technology, completely dependent on imports.”
The president recently announced Abraham Weintraub as minister of Education, a man who claims he intends to “decentralize” investment in the country’s philosophy and sociology schools to “focus on areas that generate immediate return, like veterinary, engineering, and medicine.”
His statements prompted severe criticism among experts, academic associations, professors, and students. Online petitions repudiating the government’s position about the issue have been signed by thousands of people so far.
After a huge backlash, the Ministry of Education backed down from the decision of punishing specifically universities that allegedly “promote a mess” by slashing their funds. The budget cuts will now be extended to all federal universities starting next semester.
Translated by Aline Scátola